It’s not the guns, stupid!

The debate is on. Following the Newtown massacre the never-ending discussion about gun laws vs. the “right to bear arm” rages on.  The NRA predictably proclaimed that what is actually needed are arm guards in every school, because: “The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”.

Whilst it is not too difficult to come to that conclusion, you may remember my first blog on the subject where I laid out the arguments for it, I’m afraid the establishment maybe completely missing the point. Of course there will always be a relationship between the number of guns and the number of fatalities from guns.  Nowhere on earth are there more guns per capita than in the USA. In fact other nations, with a relatively high number of guns per capita, say Finland, do not proportionally have the same number of gun related death (much lower).  So where can the difference came from?

I have been pondering that question for a while without really coming up with anything specific; there are just too many factors.  That is until this week.

Because I was a good boy last year, Santa brought me an ipod for Christmas. Lately I’ve been driving to Germany and from where I live it’s about a 1000km journey. It takes me about 10 hours to make the trip. Ten hours that are not very productive, that is until I found out about podcast. Wow! There is just so much to choose from, comedians, talk shows on just about every subject you can think of and interviews with world leaders and shapers; I even found French Canadian radio and must admit that I relish in listening to my mother tongue once in a while. Needless to say the 10-hour trip now goes by much faster, at least perceptively, when you are engaged and listening to in a good debate.  As you can imagine there is also a lot of crap on offer, so I have been trying different content.  One of the ones I like is called “what’s wrong with Kris and Steve”. It is a podcast from a radio station in Arizona that talks about mental diseases and conditions.  That is where I learned about the mental health care system in the USA, or perhaps it would better to say the lack of one. As Kris explained the story, dating back to the 50’s where people were simply locked up, or as she put it “Warehoused”; to the abuse and the scandals that triggered the dismantling of the entire system, it quickly became obvious that the real problem in the USA is not guns, but mentally ill people with guns!  Each time there is a massacre we learn that the killer was deranged or had mental conditions.

It would seem that in the USA, if you have mental health issues or conditions, and you are not employed, and therefore don’t have any health care (which for this category of people is the vast majority) then you have nowhere to turn to.  That is to say, there are millions of mentally ill people freely roaming the streets. The ones that get too violent with inevitably end up in jail, the others well they’re on their own; or in the case of the Newtown killer live with someone who has guns.

I bet you the Finns don’t let their mentally ill people run around freely!

Well of course they don’t they are Scandinavians, home to some of the most moderns socialist democracies on the planet!  They have a good healthcare system. In fact during the last European survey in 2000, the healthcare system in Finland was rated as good. ([1]Finland had the highest number of people satisfied with their hospital care system in the EU: 88% of Finnish respondents were satisfied compared with the EU average of 41.3%). It is true that the Finns pay a lot more taxes  – max rate of 30% on earned income+ 2.12% social security insurance + 18.3% Pension + 3.2% unemployment insurance; capital gains and dividends are taxed at max 32% – Ouch, I guess peace of mind has it’s price! Nevertheless you will be surprised to learn that Finland is ranked higher than USA when it comes to GDP per capita! That’s right, the average Finn is richer than the average American.

The USA has some of the most brilliant medical minds in the world, some of the best medical hospitals and research facilities and yet it fails to provide basic access to health care to millions of Americans. Nearly 50% of Americans voted for Romney, the guy that promised to repeal president Obama’s health care plan.  I’m sorry but if universal Healthcare can prevent just one more massacre, call me crazy, but I think it’s worth it.

Too expensive you say! Maybe not, take for example the Cuban Health Care system.  Being isolated from Western interest and other Healthcare oriented companies, the average Cuban boast a higher life expectancy than the average American. According to the World Health organization 2012 Statistical report, the USA spends 7 960$ per capita on Healthcare whilst Cuba spends 672$ per Capita, yet in the USA not everyone is covered. For the lack of resources, that has plague the Cuban system since the beginning, they have done remarkably well. Their focus on preventive measures and basic hygiene may seem obvious and antiquated but it has helped them achieve a higher life expectancy at a fraction of the cost. I am sure there are things to learn & practices to copy; which together could save trillions of $ over the next generation.

I’m not saying the US should go social democrat like the Finns, or emulate the healthcare system in Cuba, that would be pushing this a bit too far. But keeping an open mind I’m sure there are things to learn. And besides, you can’t argue against the logic of looking after mentally ill people; if the Cubans can look after their own mentally ill, then why not the Americans. No matter what the cost, if we can minimize the risk of another tragedy, by helping sick people, it’s got to be worth it; not to speak of the moral issue surrounding the discrimination of the mentally ill.

The next hurdle is this misconception about Government. Many Americans see government as a bad thing. Government just gets in the way, the less intervention the better. Americans don’t seem to realize that government is the only thing that seeks to protect the good of the many as it is in fact the representation of its citizens. Government should protect the interest of its citizens. Here is a simple example. Mayor Bloomberg of New York past a law banning the sales of soft drinks in large containers. The logic being that people drink too much soft drinks and it has become a health issue, so to protect it’s citizens the government of New York city has passed this law.   Whether you agree with the law, or not, is not the point.  It is the intent that is important.   Outsourcing government services may look good on the books, but people often overlook one thing, purpose. The problem with privatization and reducing government is that they don’t share the same interest and objectives. Companies are driven by profits and government strives to protect and serve their citizens. One of the major problems in US and its politics is that companies, as legal entities, enjoy similar rights as citizens. Yet companies wield much more influence (through lobbying and money) on elected officials than the average citizen can.  Some of the lobbying is so entrenched in politics that it is the often the victim sarcastic humor and sporadic scandals, like the sugar lobby. It’s hard to avoid “conflicts of interest” when your “friends” finance your campaign and essentially keeps you in office.  So yes there certainly are some services the government can outsource to private companies, but let’s stay true to our objectives when we decide to do so.  We cannot expect bankers to regulate themselves nor should we let Pharmaceutical companies and health insurance companies run the healthcare system.  Did you know that some health insurance companies spend more money on personnel to process, examine, and fine ways to deny you your claim than they do on actual healthcare? Talk about a waste of money!

Clearly, changing the focus of the debate from gun ownership, to the root cause of the problem, treating the mentally ill, would seem like the right course of action.

Zabok, HR – 3rd February 2013


[1] Wikipedia

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